The Trip To Lake Lonesome

"How's this global warming workin' for ya?" I grumbled as I scraped ice off the windshield of the Lunker Express.

"I wish Al Gore was here so I could personally slap him upside the head with a dead squirrel!" Harry shivered. The weather in Swamp Gas Corners had been unusual, to say the least. Even though spring had officially arrived, here we was sufferin' sub-frigid temperatures for the third week in a row, with no relief in sight!

Once I got the windshield scraped off, me 'n' Harry climbed in the truck and headed out to Belly Button Bayou to quell a terrible rumor we'd heard: that our favorite bass hole was completely froze over! "No way, Jose!" Harry insisted. "This here's the sunny South, not the Arctic Circle!"

"Now, what were you were saying, Nanook?" I chided as we pulled up to the launch ramp. Amazing but true — a thick sheet of ice extended from the boat launch clear across the bayou!

"We won't be able to go fishin' for weeks!" I moaned. "Even after the ice melts, that water will be so cold, them lunkers will be too froze up to bite!"

Then Harry piped up: "Heck, if the bayou's too frozen to fish, let's take a road trip to Florida! We both got some vacation comin', and we might as well spend it chasin' lunkers where the weather's balmy!"

By noon the following afternoon we was in sunny Florida, drivin' down a two-lane road somewhere in the Sunshine State's fabled Big Bass Belt. Our plan was to scout up small, forgotten lakes whose lunker populations hadn't been plucked clean. "Whoa, stop, Charlie!" Harry sputtered. "There's a sign back there pointin' to some lake!" I slowed to a stop and backed up to the intersection of a sand road. A hand-painted sign said LAKE LONESOME 3 MI. "Lake Lonesome, huh?" Harry panted excitedly. "Sounds like it could have serious lunker potential!"

"There's a bait shop just up the road," I said. "Let's see if we can find out any information about it!"

The bait shop was the classic 1940s variety you don't see much anymore — faded barn-board siding, rusty Esso gas pump out front and two old geezers sittin' on the porch playin' checkers. Inside, the walls was lined with dusty lunker mounts. The heady aroma of minnow tanks, cricket pens 'n' sausage biscuits filled the air. Me 'n' Harry picked up a couple of Zagnut bars and plunked 'em down on the counter. I asked the shop owner, "Say mister, can you tell us anything about Lake Lonesome? We spied the sign back there and was wonderin' if it was worth fishin'. You ever see any lunker bass come out of there?"

"Lake Lonesome? Don't waste your time!" he replied. "Ain't no bass left in that lake since it got taken over by invasive species!"

"Say what??" Harry wondered.

"Invasive species! You know — unnatural fishes 'n' other critters what ain't native to the state! That little lake's chock full of 'em! If you want to catch some big bass, I'd head south to Lake Okeechobee."

"Thanks, mister!" Harry allowed as he motioned me out the door. "We'll take your advice!"

"Hand me the map," I said after gettin' back in the truck. "I need to see how to get to Lake Okeechobee."

"Lake Okeechobee my patootie, turn this vehicle around and get on that sand road to Lake Lonesome!" Harry demanded.

"You heard the man — that lake's full of invasive species!" I protested.

"Charlie, you're to naïve for words!" Harry chortled. "I guarantee he made up all that bidness about invaded species to keep us from fishin' there! No doubt he saw our out-of-state license plate 'n' figgered us for a couple of dumb tourists! Well, we'll show him we ain't as dumb as we look! I'm gettin' that special twinge what tells me this could be the lunker hole of our dreams!"

Harry's "special twinges" had led us down many a rocky path to misery and sufferin' over the years, but since we'd already drove all this way, I conceded it couldn't hurt check it out. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Lake Lonesome. "Be still my heart!" Harry gasped as his eyes drank in the sight of the purtiest li'l ol' lake we'd ever seen.

Lake Lonesome was all of 50 acres big. It had that spooky black-lookin' water peculiar to the Deep South, and was ringed with bloomin' water lilies what was abuzz with dragonflies. In short, it was bassy lookin' to the extreme!

"There's gotta be some great ol' big 'uns in here!" Harry insisted as we slid Ol' Stump Jumper, our trusty johnboat, out of the pickup's bed and into the lake. We loaded our tackle and ourselves aboard and shoved off. I manned the scullin' paddle while Harry rigged up his trusty baitcastin' outfit with a big scuppernong-flavored Jelly Worm. He cast it to the edge of the lily pads 'n' whispered, "Here, fishie! I got a nice juicy worm for ya!"

Suddenly Harry's line pulled tighter than a banjo string as somethin' big 'n' mean slurped down his worm 'n' took off like a rocket! He reared back, set the hook 'n' shouted, "I got him! And he's big, all right!" The fish had Harry's pool cue rod strained to the breakin' point, but after much windin' 'n' huffin', he finally managed to work his prize close to the boat. "Get the net, Charlie!" he panted. "I about got him whupped!"

Harry pulled the mystery fish toward the surface and I scooped it up in the net. When we saw what he'd caught, we both nearly fainted! "Holy bilge pumps, what is that thing?!" he sputtered in disbelief. The 3-foot-long creature had a long, slender body, a rounded tail and the head of a snake! It hissed and snapped, revealin' a mouthful of nasty choppers!

"I think it's a dad-gum snakehead! " I exclaimed. "They hail from somewhere in the Orient, but somehow they've managed to swim their way into the U.S.!"

Harry was thoroughly creeped out: "Throw that thing back before it gives me nightmares!"

I tied on one of them high-dollar, hand-carved Japanese swimbaits. "Check out this beauty!" I said proudly as I worked it back 'n' forth next to the boat. "It's got more gyrations than an exotic dancer!" I was about to pull the plug out of the water to make a cast when it suddenly got assaulted by a school of itty-bitty fish! "Leggo my lure! " I hollered as I jerked it away, only to find they'd chewed it down to the bare hooks! "Good grief, them was piranhas! " I gasped. "Remind me never to go swimmin' in Lake Lonesome!"

Harry cranked Ol' Stump Jumper's ancient outboard. "Let's head across the lake and fish over yonder," he suggested. "Too many exotic fishes in this spot!"

We putted across the lake and about the time we got to the middle, another astounding thing happened: big fish — dozens of 'em — commenced to leapin' out of the water all around us! "Egads, what's happening?" Harry wondered. "It's a fish explosion!"

"Them's jumpin' carps!" I surmised. "I seen 'em before on TV! When they hear a boat go by, they get all riled up and take to the air!"

"I gotta get a picture of this!" Harry exclaimed. He dug out his li'l snapshot camera, squinted through the viewfinder, and — WHAP!! A 40-pounder rocketed skyward and smacked him upside the head, nearly giving him a concussion! The scaly beast flopped back into the lake, leavin' poor Harry in more of a state of confusion than normal!

Thankfully things calmed down by the time we reached the opposite shore. "Check out that big log floatin' in them lily pads," Harry whispered. "There's gotta be a lunker bass lurkin' there!" He chunked a spinnerbait with blades the size of hubcaps near the log and WOOMPFF! Immediately it got eaten by a humongous largemouth!

"This is it, Charlie!" Harry cried. "The lunker of my dreams!" It was a monster, all right — 18 pounds easy! The big bass steamrolled along the edge of the pads, then did a 180 and made straight for the floatin' log. Harry reeled up slack line feverishly and finally caught up with his prize. "She's wearin' out now!" he said confidently. Then a strange thing happened … the log ate Harry's bass!

"Yikes, it's a giant python!" I gasped in horror as the huge snake lunged forward, ripped the lunker off Harry's lure and swallered it whole!

"Let's get the heck outa here and head back home!" Harry pleaded. "I don't know 'bout you, but after this here adventure, ice fishin' is startin' to sound mighty appealin' to me!"